In the Maze
December 19, 2017 10:50 AM   Subscribe

I blame religion, American style, which has taught people that "BUT THIS IS WHAT I BELIEVE" is some kind of absolute justificiation that indemnifies you against disagreement.
posted by thelonius at 11:00 AM on December 19, 2017 [28 favorites]

The article had made me feel naive. These were the people I’d given the benefit of the doubt, the professional acquaintances who adopted such strong anti-identitarian poses that I often couldn’t discern their true sympathies. I figured that like the liberal professionals in the throes of a moral panic about moral panics, they shared the goal of collective liberation but disagreed about how to reach it, and in their disagreement came off as more resistant to change than they were. But what if some of them were not just acting like reactionaries? What if they didn’t share the goal?
- Dayna Tortorici
Politically-speaking, the entire post-structuralist critique actually relies on the pervasiveness and established nature of a sort of vulgar enlightenment - pretty much everyone believes that history is progressive, all men are sorta-kinda created equal even if we don't mean equal-equal, that you should not be able to formally own another human being, that certain things like universal education are such obvious social goods that they do not even require defending, that you should not die on the floor of the emergency room because you cannot afford cash up front, etc. We all basically assumed that if we attacked the flimsiness and incompleteness of reformist, vulgar enlightenment measures, everyone would still basically be operating on shared vulgar enlightenment values. (This is not what post-structuralism says; it's the political condition that made post-structuralist theory possible.)

But all those ideas were not powerful and pervasive after all. You start chipping away at the reformist measures and talking about how there really is no unified subject, biopower, etc etc and you discover all these people being empowered to stand up and shout that they don't believe in enlightenment values, that all men are not created equal, that yes there is no civil society and therefore we should get rid of schools, that it's perfectly good and healthy if people die on the floor because they're broke.
- Frowner
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:06 AM on December 19, 2017 [29 favorites]

“It’s not that you can’t speak. It’s that other people can hear you. And they’re telling you what you’re saying is crazy.”

I think this is central to the white straight cis male outrage — the idea that other people outside your circle matter enough that you should have to care what they think is a pretty fundamental challenge to privilege. “We haven’t had to care for decades/centuries/millennia; why should we start now?”
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:12 AM on December 19, 2017 [47 favorites]

I found this article disturbing because it shows how hard it is to get people to take Nazis (and others) at their word. Why do we keep wanting to think the best of others when we know that they don't think the best of us?
posted by irisclara at 11:31 AM on December 19, 2017 [6 favorites]

Why do we keep wanting to think the best of others when we know that they don't think the best of us?

The glib answer is "because we're better than that" - which of course has its own problems.
posted by aspersioncast at 11:42 AM on December 19, 2017 [4 favorites]

From the article:
I once heard a story about a friend who’d said, offhand at a book group, that he’d throw women under the bus if it meant achieving social democracy in the United States. The story was meant to be chilling — this from a friend? — but it made me laugh. As if you could do it without us, I thought, we who do all the work on the group project. I wondered what his idea of social democracy was.

This is what I find so short sighted about male allies in political fights who are so quick to discount our voices and our particular issues. When I volunteer in politics, I am most often in a room full of women. I have door knocked and phone banked in all female groups. If something to be done requires work but no glory, trust that it will be done by women. Men don't show up for their own goddamn fight. They can't make a revolution without us, much less a change in management.
posted by Emmy Rae at 11:49 AM on December 19, 2017 [80 favorites]

I don’t think there’s much deeper philosophy behind the attitude than vicious, dishonest scheming. They don’t actually believe in ‘free speech’ of any sort, it’s just a wedge, a tool that can be repurposed as you see fit.

This was obvious to me in the recent Australian non-binding national postal ‘vote’ on gay marriage. Conservatives were the ones demanding a popular vote, so certain they were the ‘silent majority’. The true voice of the people must be respected and heard!

Then they lost. Massively. And on a dime, within an hour, the message changed to “you have to respect minority opinion, you can’t go trampling over our minority rights - think of our religious freedoms - all us people who voted no are very upset and things need to be taken slowly and carefully so we aren’t damaged”.

When you’re winning, you’re the silent majority whose voice must carry the day. When you’re losing, you’re a precious minority whose rights and freedoms must be respected.

It’s all a trick.
posted by Jimbob at 12:01 PM on December 19, 2017 [108 favorites]

The theorist Sara Ahmed’s diagnosis of teachers’ reactions to sensitive students as “a moral panic about moral panics” struck me as right.

I will use this phrase.
posted by bq at 12:04 PM on December 19, 2017 [7 favorites]

Near the end of 2014, I remember, the right to free speech under the First Amendment had been recast in popular discourse as the right to free speech without consequence, without reaction.

I don't think it's a coincidence that much of the "alt-right" was starting to coalesce around this time, either. Gamergate began in late 2014, and a lot of hate/harassment groups had basically weaponized this particular "right" as their calling card around the same time. It's also not a coincidence that these groups--the online manosphere, the Sad and Rabid Puppies in SFF, and the like--had a lot of overlap with Gamergate, as well as the neoreactionary/dark enlightment bullshit.
posted by zombieflanders at 12:17 PM on December 19, 2017 [23 favorites]

Why do we keep wanting to think the best of others when we know that they don't think the best of us?

It's very challenging and stressful to live in a society with people you know are out to harm you. My career has left me extremely cynical about people's motives generally, and I often want to shake people and demand, "Why on Earth do you think [these folks in late capitalism] have your interests at heart???" But it's really hard to live, knowing that so many around you don't have your interests at heart. One segment of my career was spent in a job environment where you knew you existed as a billing machine and your life was a power struggle over every individual hour: would it be converted into $$$ for the firm or would you use it yourself? In that environment, professional distrust was a paramount necessity. You wouldn't tell anybody anything. It was just exhausting. I still don't overshare with my colleagues, but it's nice to know that I can actually tell my boss that, oh, I have a lot going on personally this week, so I can't stay late to work on x project, it will have to get done next week, without having to worry about being identified as a weakling.
posted by praemunire at 12:30 PM on December 19, 2017 [14 favorites]

Outrage for the victims was just another weapon in an eternal battle between men. .... As the adage goes: in the game of patriarchy, women aren’t the other team, they’re the ball.

I am noticing this in some of the backlash, and the reactions to the backlash, which focus on things like "he was only doing what was normal at the time" or "he was an abuser and needs to be thrown out! Now!" or "his good works since then are more important than punishment for some long-ago not-really-a-crime" or "he must be punished so that all the other abusers will know they're not safe."

None of that rhetoric even hints at, "this is how we will make a safer, more inclusive place for women." None of it is, "this is how to make reparations to the women who were harmed." None of it is even, "this is how to prevent harm to other women in the future;" it's about punishing the "bad men," not protecting women.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 1:48 PM on December 19, 2017 [46 favorites]

it's about punishing the "bad men," not protecting women.

That's because we refuse to recognize the problem as systemic and endemic.

So we punish individuals whose behavior we regard as an outlier, as transgression, when in fact their behavior falls within the norm and the actual transgression is getting caught and being called out.
posted by allium cepa at 1:55 PM on December 19, 2017 [33 favorites]

I don’t think there’s much deeper philosophy behind the attitude than vicious, dishonest scheming. They don’t actually believe in ‘free speech’ of any sort, it’s just a wedge, a tool that can be repurposed as you see fit.

I agree with this completely, but it is still fun to hear them squawk when they get exposed doing something idiotic in public and have to face actual consequences for it.

"But...but...doxxing is illegal!"
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:11 PM on December 19, 2017 [7 favorites]

So we punish individuals whose behavior we regard as an outlier, as transgression, when in fact their behavior falls within the norm and the actual transgression is getting caught and being called out.
I've mentioned this before, but my dad was a labor relations specialist for a union for the vast majority of his career. He told me last week while we were discussing this issue that he had to have at least a dozen heart-to-heart conversations with his clients where he ended up explaining that Predatory Sexual Behavior X is not ok in the workplace. Many of his clients honestly didn't know. This discussion reminded me of all the backlash a few years back about "teaching men not to rape" on college campuses and how damaging a default assumption is that men are rapists is.

Everyone needs to be taught these things, for real. My parents explaining to me that it wasn't ok to take a flower I liked from a plant at the local greenhouse isn't an assumption that I was born a thief. Being told that I should be careful while patting the dog isn't an assumption that I was born an animal abuser. And taking classes in consent and sexual harassment is not an assumption that all men are rapists and abusers. I truly think that true, knowingly predatory behavior is mixed in with garden variety cluelessness and a lack of empathy, and a lot of that can be solved by managing toxic masculinity as parents and educating young men and women about sex, work, and relationships before they enter the workforce. I had more sex harassment education for my crap jobs at Best Buy & Wegman's than I ever had in corporate environments or from my parents or school.
posted by xyzzy at 3:18 PM on December 19, 2017 [43 favorites]

I so agree that we need to not treat acceptable limits on behavior as something people are expected to be born knowing. Raising my own child has disabused me of any idea that this knowledge is innate.

What I do feel, though, is that the problem lies deeper.

To me, a lot of what we term toxic masculinity is simply the natural outcome of how we define gender roles.

When what lies at the core of a person's notions of self is a gendered identity that requires validation and reinforcement by means which transgress what we ostensibly believe are unacceptable, then the inherent conflict will continue to surface again and again.

To what extent is the masculine self validated by assertions of supremacy and control over others, and by demonstrations of sexual prowess and virility? And if these demonstrations of sexual potency require a witness/target, but only one who does not need to be a voluntary collaborator and participant or mutual in these validations of self, then are we surprised by the prevalence of assault stories?

Moreover, when feminine self-identity in the context of sexual attraction is culturally understood from the masculine point of view as defined by implied or inferred responsiveness to desire, you get a lousy dynamic all around.

"She wanted it."
"She was asking for it."

(did you ask her, or were you just assuming her feelings were a mirror for your own desire, because in the end, a mirror is what you seek?)

I acknowledge that this is a horrible simplification, and that binning people into masculine and feminine, and ignoring non-heterosexual relationships for the purposes of this discussion ignores considerable nuance in the conversation. I'm not going to even try to address that here.

But I do think that a lot of the current spate of outings over inappropriate behavior have at their heart people acting out their ideas about how they define themselves, based on cultural notions of self and gender which they've taken on-board in childhood, in pre-rational states, which are re-enforced by the people around them, and seldom examined, as fundamental ideas about self are rarely revisited in adulthood without external stimulus.

And it's good that we culturally reject the actions which the Weinsteins of the world have deemed acceptable for themselves, but if we want to resolve the problem, we need to not just publicly condemn their acts, but also work with our kids so they don't grow up defining themselves in a manner that encourages acting in this way.
posted by allium cepa at 6:04 PM on December 19, 2017 [15 favorites]

Frowner's point about being startled by how lightly the Enlightenment sits upon the world resonates. Been thinking about that a lot lately.
posted by Wretch729 at 8:56 AM on December 20, 2017 [4 favorites]

Not directly related to this post, but Emmy Rae's statement "if something to be done requires work but no glory, trust that it will be done by women," approaches perfection as a TL;DR of what I learned working a couple jobs in human services.
posted by mr. digits at 9:27 AM on December 20, 2017 [8 favorites]

Any plan to fix the world that's based on the enlightenment of the masses is doomed to fail. The masses don't get enlightened.* They get comfortable. They get comfortable with new norms, new standards of behavior.

Those norms are getting better - while we've had hidden racism erupt like toxic boils all over the country, we've also seen some backlash: Charlottesville marchers losing their jobs; Twitter banning Milo, and so on. It's not nearly as much or as solid a reaction as we'd like, but it's a lot more than we would've gotten 50 years ago.

A change in the base ethos of a society takes generations. We're at a shift point: the last generation of "it's okay for white guys to mistreat women and poc and other minorities" is literally dying, and they're kicking and screaming to take their last moments in the spotlight. They're going to cause a lot of damage, but they're not actually going to be able to put things back to where they were in 1958.

* This is not a matter of "wake up, sheeple!" but "life is hard; work is exhausting; parenting is alternately exhilarating and terrifying; I have a twelve-page report due Friday and the damn contractor still hasn't fixed the leaky roof, and you want me to care what some legislator from another state did with tax money eight years ago?"
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 12:55 PM on December 20, 2017 [6 favorites]

If you want a picture of some progress, check out the related posts below.
posted by Freelance Demiurge at 11:10 AM on December 21, 2017

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